Katie Boulter says she has made a complete recovery from a stress fracture of the back, and now feels “no pain whatsoever”.
Boulter was Britain’s number two when she was injured playing for her country against Kazakhstan in a Fed Cup tie in April.
The 23-year-old has not played since.
But now, six months on, she is preparing to return to the tour in either France or Thailand in the week of 4 November.
“I have no pain whatsoever – which is amazing,” Boulter told BBC Sport.
“I don’t feel anything at all on any shot, so I’m in a very good place at the moment. I don’t think there’s going to be any problem with it whatsoever going forward.”
Boulter had started the year strongly by reaching the second round of the Australian Open, where she impressed her opponent, 11th seed Aryna Sabalenka.
She then won five of the six singles rubbers she played as Britain returned to the Fed Cup World Group for the first time in 26 years.
Boulter thinks watching on as her friends played Wimbledon was the lowest point.
She also missed the US Open and the French Open, and says she has “absolutely no regrets” about travelling to Roland Garros to pull out on site.
That entitled her to half of the first-round prize money of 46,000 euros.
“I had every intention to play,” she said.
‘No resentment towards Fed Cup’
After winning all four of her matches in Bath in February, as Britain won their Europe/Africa zonal event, Boulter secured the winning point in the World Group play-off with Kazakhstan.
Having lost dramatically to Yulia Putintseva on the opening day in London, she recovered from a set and a break down to beat Zarina Diyas.
Boulter’s back was an issue all weekend, and on the Sunday she frequently put a hot water bottle down the back of her skirt to ease the pain at change of ends.
Reform of the Fed Cup meant the tie was always likely to be academic, but Boulter harbours no ill-feelings.
“No, absolutely not,” she replied.
“I think what we did that weekend was an achievement in itself. And that weekend is something I am going to have in my memory bank for the rest of my life.
“It was my choice to go and play that match. So I think it was just a coincidence that it happened to be a Fed Cup match that I got injured.”
The long and slow road back
Boulter initially thought she may be out for just a couple of weeks. Then five, then 10… and then 20.
“It’s been extremely difficult,” she said.
“I’m a tennis player. I want to be on the court, I want to be competing. Yes, it’s been difficult, but I think it’s going to make me stronger, and a better person and player next year.
“I think one of the lowest moments for me would have been watching everyone play at Wimbledon. It’s something that’s pretty close to the heart.”
But if every cloud has a silver lining, then for Boulter it was the chance to work on her physique.
She often spent five hours a day in the gym, attempting to strengthen her body for the years ahead.
“One of my biggest goals has always been to gain weight and get stronger, and be able to compete for longer,” she continued.
“That’s always been an issue for me. I have spent a lot of time quite sick, so to actually be feeling strong and like I can get through weeks of training makes it a lot easier for me.”
In 2015, Boulter contracted a virus which left her feeling extremely tired, and for much of the last few years has not been able to train flat out.
Another benefit of this enforced break was the chance to have her tonsils removed. It might have been “really painful”, but the hope is she will be less prone to infection in future.
‘No regrets’ about French Open withdrawal
Soon after Boulter’s stress fracture was diagnosed, sources indicated she would have to miss the entire clay-court season.
So it came as a big surprise when her name appeared in the draw for the French Open.
The following morning Boulter travelled to Roland Garros, and later in the day it was announced she had withdrawn because of injury.
By pulling out on site, she was able to share the first-round prize money of 46,000 euros (£40,640) with the player who replaced her in the main draw. The rule was introduced to encourage those who are not quite sure of their fitness to make way for a player with no such doubts.
“I gave myself the maximum amount of time that I could to play the tournament,” Boulter explained.
“I work all year round to be in the massive tournaments, so I was going to do everything in my power to do it. So I don’t have any regrets.”
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Did she think she had a chance of competing when she boarded the train to Paris?
“I think it’s difficult, you know. I was advised by the medical staff in the LTA, and I was also advised by the medical staff with the WTA when I got there.
“So I had every intention to play, and I did everything in my power that I could possibly do to be on the court.”
Looking to the future
Boulter’s first tournament back will be at an ITF World Tennis Tour event with just $25,000 (£19,362) of prize money.
“I’m actually quite excited because I’m a competitor,” she said.
“I love grafting. It’s kind of who I am. I’ve got to do it all over again and I’m going to enjoy every moment of it, I think, just being back on court and healthy again.
“I’m itching to travel again. My normal schedule is 30 weeks of the year away, and I’ve had six months at home.”
The 23-year-old hopes to play a few events before the year is out, and is then targeting a return to Grand Slam tennis at January’s Australian Open. Boulter will be able to enter under a protected ranking of 85 – if players are out for more than six months, they are able to use the ranking they had when they got injured.
In February she hopes to compete for her country once again as Great Britain travel to Slovakia in the Fed Cup. The tie will determine which country qualifies for April’s inaugural 12-team Finals in Budapest.
“I’m going to be pretty smart with what I do from now on,” she said in conclusion.
“I’ve learnt a lot from that weekend, on and off the court, so I’m definitely looking forward to putting that vest on again, and getting out there and playing for my country.”
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